info @ archimuse.com
published: April, 2002
Learning by Design: Teachers / Museums / Technology
Session: Learning in Theory and Practice
Information technologies in museums are being touted as the means to create a dynamic interface and intersection between a museum's resources and student/teacher learning. An emerging concern in educational research is how the introduction of information technologies into museums - digitalized artefacts, web-based resources, online professional development for teachers - has spurred both an influx of undocumented learning with museum collections and a wave of pedagogical activities created in isolation to increase 'museum' learning by users. This dual impact of unknown research implications and isolated inquiries that concern the fields of museum studies, educational pedagogy, or information technology design has become a concern for educational researchers. We argue that there has to be greater institutional collaboration and interaction between museum professionals, university researchers, school teachers, students and software designers. This collaboration needs to examine the design, use, and content of web environments as well as the social and educational impacts of information technologies on museum web visitors/users.
Critical curriculum theorists advocate the reduction or elimination of overly-structured and predetermined learning paths in pedagogical models such as textbooks. The 'story-board' structure of many museum web sites can create interactions between a visitor and a museum web environment as structured and predetermined as any textbook. This pedagogical model implies that the student or teacher is not being given an active role or enough flexibility in the construction of the exhibit's meaning from their particular perspective and social situation. In a similar manner, social informatics research examines how people use, adapt or reject information technologies in their specific organisational and cultural situations. Social informatics would recommend the student or teacher-user to not be limited to a rigid design path conceived for the delivery of a number of specific outcomes. Museums need to create environments where the user/visitor/learner feels free and permitted to ask questions that will influence their learning in their own way, to relate their stories and experiences in their own chosen manner, and, to share this knowledge and information with the museum, designers and other users. The increasing use of information technologies in museums impacts the educational intent of museums. Yet absent is an in-depth understanding of how information technologies interact with specific publics and the ways that museums deliver their educational intent. Despite evidence that social informatics can impact thinking about learning in museums via websites (Anderson, 1999), there is little research about how museums implement and respond to those teachers and students who use the web technologies. Our concerns are with how students and teachers learn by utilizing the digital resources provided by the museum.
This paper draws on comparisons between three museum websites. We examine how each site seeks to better engage and influence teacher and student learning. Through these comparisons, we will show how museum educators, social informatics researchers, and educators need to move beyond their individual disciplines to collaborate with one another and to better understand how their disciplinary theory and research connects with learning for different public audiences. This paper is both focused on how curriculum and social informatics theory can contribute to museum education in a collaborative and reiterative environment. We seek to introduce and discuss the tensions and difficulties that school-based educators (teachers and faculty) face in understanding museum education and social informatics along with museum professionals. We argue that social informatics is both continuous with a tradition of collaboration and discontinuous in that it responds to a different set of conditions under different modes of learning.